Chelsea and Manchester United have both endured somewhat underwhelming seasons - but a victory at Wembley would change everything. Michael Cox and Alan Thompson preview the action...
"The most intriguing thing is Mourinho’s system, as he’s chosen some hugely unusual formations in an attempt to cope against Conte’s 3-4-3 in the past"
Chelsea v Manchester United
Saturday 17:30, BBC One.
Match Odds: Chelsea [3.0], Man Utd [2.8], The Draw [3.2].
This is one of the most evenly-matched FA Cup finals in recent memory, and another grudge match between old foes Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte. Mourinho needs a trophy to put a positive spin upon an otherwise forgettable campaign, while this seems likely to be Conte's final game as Chelsea coach.
These two have met on five occasions in charge of these sides, with Conte's Chelsea winning three matches and Mourinho's United two. After Chelsea's crushing 4-0 win in October 2016, Mourinho appears to have gradually worked out how to play against Chelsea's three-man defence, which is partly why United start as favourites here.
Conte's precise formation, however, remains to be seen. Although he's generally favoured 3-4-3 in recent months, he reverted to 3-5-2 for the final day 3-0 defeat to Newcastle, a curious move considering that is generally considered Chelsea's more defensive system, and Chelsea needed to win that game. Was he using 3-5-2 in preparation for this Cup Final? And will the 3-0 defeat have convinced him to move away from that system and return to the 3-4-3?
It's tough to decide which system Conte will use, but I think the 3-4-3 makes sense. Tiemoue Bakayoko was again disappointing last weekend, and with Danny Drinkwater out and Ross Barkley hardly a realistic starter, I'm simply not sure Conte has another central midfielder to make the 3-5-2 worthwhile. Therefore, expect N'Golo Kante to be partnered by Cesc Fabregas here.
That would mean Willian returning to the side and playing on the right of the front three, with Eden Hazard drifting inside from the left. There's also a question mark upfront, where Conte must choose between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, who was often omitted from the starting XI for FA Cup finals in his Arsenal days. I think the same could happen again, with Morata upfront and Giroud a Plan B.
There's a chance Emerson Palmieri will get the nod instead of Marcos Alonso, but I think the Spaniard will continue on the left with Victor Moses on the right. Defensively, Gary Cahill has returned to become a first-choice alongside Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger.
4-2-2-2 for Mourinho?
Mourinho has some serious fitness doubts. The main issue is Romelu Lukaku, who has missed the last three matches with an ankle problem and could miss out here. It seems Mourinho is more likely to risk him, but if the Belgian is out altogether, it doesn't help that Mourinho may also be without Anthony Martial, and the ready-made Plan B of Marouane Fellaini, who are both struggling with injury too.
The most intriguing thing, however, is Mourinho's system, as he's chosen some hugely unusual formations in an attempt to cope against Conte's 3-4-3 in the past, including a system that featured four defenders plus wing-backs to form a back six last season. In the 2-1 win over Chelsea in February, however, Mourinho chose a 4-2-2-2 system that was designed to compete four-against-four in the centre of the pitch, and I think he might do something similar again here.
That could mean Lukaku and Marcus Rashford upfront (it was Lukaku and Martial in the league fixture), supported by Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba, who would have instructions to mark Fabregas and Kante.
That would leave Nemanja Matic to hold in the centre of midfield, watching Willian closely, while Ander Herrera would be used alongside him in a spoiling role on Eden Hazard, as he'd done previously with mixed results. Chelsea's wing-backs would be the responsibility of Manchester United's full-backs, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young.
That approach worked well in the league fixture, and I think it makes sense again here. It's a starting XI packed with attackers, but one based around defensive responsibility, and I'm yet to see much evidence that Conte can change things if his initial system is outwitted.
For that reason, I fancy Manchester United here. I'll back them to win in 90 minutes at [2.8].
The Betfair Trader's View - Alan Thompson
Chelsea put in a very poor performance on the last day of the season away at Newcastle, they looked disinterested at times, struggled in possession and contributed very little going forward. There will have to be a major change in attitude if they are to beat Manchester United today, who themselves competed in a very lacklustre affair in the final day. They beat Watford 1-0 at Old Trafford in a game that had no energy or tempo and a second half that was virtually a non event.
Chelsea lost last year’s FA Cup Final to Arsenal and Antonio Conte will surely be keen not to repeat that this season in what is rumoured to be his final game in charge of the club. If the rumours are true then Jose Mourinho will be determined to send Conte on his way with a defeat on Saturday as there appears to be no love lost between these two.
This is Chelsea’s sixth final appearance since the competition returned to Wembley (where they beat United in 2007) winning four of the previous five. But, United also have a good pedigree in cup competitions when playing at Wembley, winning their last seven at the venue.
Neither team are coming into this one in any great form so it could be a cagey affair that could even go all the way. It took a Didier Drogba extra time goal to settle the last final between the sides in 2007 after a goalless 90 minutes. I will be splitting my stake backing Under 1.5 Goals at [2.9] with 75% of my stake and backing the 1-1 Correct Score at [6.8] with the remaining 25%.